The racing genre is a lot more varied than you probably realise. From the arcade madness of Mario Kart and other forms of arcade fun like the old Micro Machines series; to the simulators like Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport and even more hardcore ones on PC. Then there are the multiple forms of motorsport, from off-road rallying to the lightweight insanity that is F1, all of which bring different driving styles to the table.
Then there are the in-between games that walk the line between realism and arcade fun, such as this new game, Grand Prix Rock’n Racing. With a helicopter’s view of the track, GPRR looks like an arcade game to ape Micro Machines. Its sound, with the incredibly irritating (and unfortunately, compulsory) announcer that repeatedly shouts over the action, and guitar riffs that wouldn’t be out-of-place in an arcade cabinet, just reinforces the lack of realism expected here. But then you start your first race. At first, the incredibly slow acceleration will throw you off, but soon you’ll find yourself really having to slow for corners and find the best line through them in order to get optimal speed into the next straight. It’s quite jarring when everything about the game’s exterior suggests it’s an arcade game.
There are only a handful of options from the main menu, which are basically a career mode, time trials and multiplayer – none of the online variety unfortunately, but local does support up to four players in split-screen. At the beginning, only one track is available, with the other nine unlocked throughout the career mode’s championship. This means that content is a bit light from the start, but it will at least grow as you progress through your first championship season.
Championships consist of races across ten countries, though the tracks are made up. They’re varied in their shapes, some favouring long straights while others are slow and full of winding corners, becoming much more strategic in your search for that elusive first win. As mentioned earlier, the slow acceleration (and the fact that you start your first race at the back, in 20th place) means that winning from the start isn’t an option here. Your starting place is determined by your standing in the current season’s rankings, so scrapping for points in those early races is key to your overall success. Your finishing position will also determine how many upgrade tokens you receive, to spend between races. Spending tokens across top speed, acceleration (or ‘aceletation’ as the game spells it, oddly), turbo, brakes and tyres, will help in your quest to reach the podium. Strangely, this take on upgrades is actually one of the best examples of progression seen in a racer, and could possibly be used in other, officially licensed games in the future, instead of being able to win races from the very beginning.
This challenge is accompanied by the intensity of the races themselves. The AI, while overly aggressive (sometimes infuriatingly so), makes for some exciting races full of incidents, from overtakes and wheel-to-wheel racing, all the way to pile-ups on the first corner. Online gamers will no doubt have encountered this in racers before. The physics does have its issues though, with inconsistency being the main one, especially at higher speeds. Cars will lose grip for no reason whatsoever, sending you into a spin; clipping curbs will be fine on one lap, but will send you flying through the air on another; and merely scraping the outer barrier will result in you facing the wrong way – about the only consistent thing about GPRR’s physics, actually. These problems are almost always the reason for losing places in a race, and are a little too common to ignore.
Physics isn’t the only problem here, either. The announcer, as mentioned before, repeats the same phrases over and over throughout the race, including one wonderful use of, “go for it, men!” Apparently the female gamer isn’t represented here, despite the ever-growing number of girls/women playing games today and, for that matter, joining the ranks of the various motorsports of the world. Punishment is another problem within GPRR, specifically that there is none. Cutting corners is easy enough to do and the only difference you’ll see is a slight reduction in grip over grass, and then there’s the AI ramming you and everyone else off the road without penalty. The whole thing is full of little problems that add up to one incredibly frustrating experience.
Grand Prix Rock’n Racing is game at war with itself. Its semi-realistic handling belies its arcade presentation, and its AI and physics are constantly battling the player, almost penalising players for upgrading their vehicle as higher speeds result in more unpredictable and inconsistent physics. It’s a real shame as the game really does have potential, with its nice feeling of progression in its upgrade system and a variety of fun and interesting tracks, but its flaws are too many and too great to fully recommend the game to anyone, regardless of whether they enjoy racing games or not, although it is cheap enough for an impulse buy some day, if you’re desperate enough for a new racer.
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